Ridiculous premise, clunky dialogue, overwrought music? It must be an Irish radio ad
Amy O’Connor: At their best, radio ads can be warm and intimate and evocative. At their worst, they can be cloying and inane and become talking points in their own right.
Don’t touch that dial: Irish radio ads do such a terrible job of re-creating natural-sounding dialogue that they make for mesmerising listening. Photograph: E+/Getty
If you have tuned into the radio over the last few weeks, chances are you have heard the new Axa spot doing the rounds on the airwaves. If you’re drawing a blank, allow me to refresh your memory. The ad opens with a soft-spoken man calling his home insurer. “We’ve had a very bad storm and a tree has just smashed through our house into our living room,” he says. “Is everything okay?” the customer service agent asks. “Oh yeah, everyone’s grand,” he replies.
The pair engage in a bit of back and forth, discussing the mundanities of what’s next, when a little voice interrupts them. “Dad, what about the birds and their babies?” asks the man’s young daughter. “They’re people, too.” Her contribution is about as useful as an inflatable dartboard. Not only are birds not people, but their nests are most certainly not covered by standard home insurance.
Most parents dealing with a tree in their livingroom would tell their little darlings that they can’t think about the birds right now, seeing as their house has just ruined our house, so please amuse yourself with this tablet and don’t come near us again. This man, however, decides to humour his daughter.
“Oh, and there’s a bird’s nest,” he says.
“Don’t worry, we’ll be extra, extra careful,” replies the woman on the other end of the phone.
The little girl’s concerns are assuaged, the music swells and we’re led to believe that everyone – the hapless father, the precocious child with a misunderstanding of what constitutes a person, the baby birds – lives happily ever after. If it sounds ludicrous, that’s because it is. The premise is ridiculous, the dialogue is clunky, and the music is overwrought. In other words, it’s a classic Irish radio ad.
Irish radio advertising can be very strange. It lacks the budgets and sexiness of television advertising, and often has to resort to more creative, lo-fi means to get its message across. It’s less Don Draper and more Don Conroy.
Anyone who regularly listens to the radio will tell you that radio advertising is reliant on a few distinct tropes. The most prevalent of these usually involves a stilted conversation between two people in which they have less than 30 seconds to get down to brass tacks. Those ads usually go a little something like this: “Anne, long time no see! How are you?” asks Mary. “I’m a little hung-over, truth be told,” Anne says with a laugh. “You’re a gas woman!” says Mary. “Speaking of gas, have you had your gas boiler serviced this year?” Fin. Just a chill, cordial conversation between two pals who haven’t seen each other for a while, you know yourself. No time for niceties when there are gas boilers to be serviced.
A recent favourite centred on a couple arguing about car insurance. “I think we should break up,” says the woman. “But I just got your name tattooed on my . . . ” whimpers the man. “With our car insurer!” replies the woman with a tinge of irritation in her voice, as though that was the obvious conclusion to her sentence.
These sorts of spots do such a terrible job of re-creating natural-sounding dialogue that they make for mesmerising listening. It’s not unlike watching a Russian bot impersonate an actual human. “Let’s break up with our car insurer and watch them cry liberal tears. #MAGA”.
It’s short and sweet and doesn’t mess about. `Here’s the time and here’s what we want you to buy'
Some ads eschew dialogue for a more stream-of-consciousness style. Think of old Mr Brennan’s unnamed friend waxing lyrical about what the young whippersnappers were saying to him about gluten-free baps the other day. Or the Meadows & Byrne woman scatting about the seasons. “And sunflowers and embroidered kaftan dresses and one more glass of rosé and holiday homes in Bulgaria purchased at the height of the boom . . .”
At their best, radio ads can be warm and intimate and evocative. At their worst, they can be cloying and inane and become talking points in their own right.
Thank God for ads that go straight for the jugular, then. For instance, lots of car ads use the old, “It’s five to eight, it’s time to book a test drive today” nugget. Why is five to the hour deemed the optimum time to flog a car? I don’t know, but I can’t fault it as a marketing strategy. It’s short and sweet and doesn’t mess about. “Here’s the time and here’s what we want you to buy.”
I think it’s an approach that could be adopted by lots of services. “It’s five to eight, it’s time to get your act together and bring those prosecco bottles out for recycling. You’re a disgrace.” In fact, I already have the tag line sorted for Axa’s next ad: “It’s five to eight, it’s time to tell your child that birds are not people, too.” No need to thank me, guys. That one’s on the house.
Jennifer O’Connell returns next week